Tuesday, September 30, 2014

So Much History In Cusco

Cuzco is big on tourism and thousands of tourists folk to this city each year, making it quite a popular destination in Peru. Having lived here for almost a month I can see the appeal of this city, it was the capital of the great Inca empire and it is very rich in history which you don't have to look far to find. From the many museums to streets that still have the old Inca walls that date hundreds of years back and to the many ruins that are open for exploration, you are basically surrounded by history.

While visiting this city you have to at least know about Pachakuteq who is credited for having greatly expanded the Inca empire. The empire covered Cuzco and some surrounding areas but Pachakuteq expanded it to include: north western part of Argentina, north and central Chile, south central Bolivia, Peru, part of Ecuador and southern Colombia. I took a picture of the map below illustrating how vast this empire was.

I would recommend visiting the museum of Pachakuteq and the Inca museum which have some interesting historical facts and information about the Incas. The museum of Pachakuteq is not too huge and once inside you have to go up several stairs until you reach the sculpture of Pachakuteq at the very top. Each floor level has historical information so as you go up you learn more information plus you get a pretty awesome view. I took a few pictures at this museum but unfortunately I don't have any from the Inca museum.

Some of the weapons of war that were used to conquer.

The man with the hat in the picture below was Tupac Amaru, leader of an indigenous uprising against the Spanish in Peru.

If museums are not your thing then take a walk along the oldest street in Cuzco, Calle Loreto and Calle Hatunrumiyoc to check out the very impressive Inca walls that have survived hundreds of years and look so perfect that you have to wonder how these people did it.

This is a pre Inca wall

This is an Incan wall, the bottom part with the huge stones. There is no mortar holding the stones together and each stone has been perfectly cut to fit into the next stone; therefore not requiring any mortar for reinforcement. The lines are so perfect when you observe them that you can't help but be amazed by the craftsmanship.

The Incas considered these three animals as sacred: The Puma for it's strength, the snake for it's speed and the Condor for it's ability to fly. If you look closely at the picture below do you see a representation of two of the sacred animals on the Inca wall. Notice the puma at the top and the snake at the bottom?

This is a wall that was built by the Spanish after conquering the Incas, notice the huge difference? when the Spanish conquered the Incas they destroyed their structures and built over them, actually most if not all the churches that were built by the Spanish back then, were built over destroyed Incan structures as a way to illustrate the Spanish conquest and power.

A lot of the Incan structures had trapezoidal doors and windows, this was to provide more stability hence making them resistant to earthquakes.

That's it folks, it's really been fascinating learning about all the history that's to be found in this place and it has given me more appreciation of what's around me. I forgot to mention that not too far from where I live in Cuzco there is a cobbled stoned street which as it turns out, when it was being built in the modern times, what used to be part of the great Inca road system that passed through the 6 countries I had mentioned earlier, was uncovered. Can you even begin to imagine how long and well organized this road was? ironically it also ended up being part of their downfall because it opened the empire to invasion from the Spanish and exposure to diseases like small pox which wiped out a great number of the population.

PS: If I got any historically facts wrong feel free to correct me.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

Preservativos in Spanish mean condoms not preservatives (substance used to preserve a product from going bad). Yes, I had an embarrassing incident that resulted in a lot of laughs. Now I know!

Pachacuteq had two sons named Tupac and Amaru.

I have heard that Cuzco is a very spiritual place and prior to coming here I had been told by a few people that there is such a spiritual vibe about this place. Well, I must have missed out on that spiritual vibe because I don't get it.

There are many spiritual retreats here and there are plenty of spiritual ceremonies that are held by shamans. I have not ventured into that territory and I am really not curious, does that explain why I don't get the spiritual vibe.

There is a popular ceremony here called Ayahuasca, read about it here or look it up further online. I have spoken to those who have participated in the ceremony and I have heard of how much it has helped them spiritually and mentally but I don't think it's something I would be interested in participating in. To be honest with you it's just not my cup of tea and it actually freaks me out but kudos to those who benefit from it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

San Pedro Market

I enjoy visiting some of these markets in South America because you can find all kinds of organic fruits and vegetables at very cheap prices. My really sweet Spanish teacher offered to accompany me to San Pedro, the biggest market in Cuzco to show me around and also teach me the Spanish names of some of the fruits and vegetables that are locally grown. I couldn't pass up the chance so I was only too happy to check out the market.

San Pedro market isn't too far from the main plaza (Plaza de Armas), it's within walking distance and if you are not too sure on how to get there you can ask someone at Plaza de Armas for directions, the market is very popular so most people know where it is.

San Pedro is pretty big and has been divided into various sections that have stalls which sell specific products, making it easier to narrow down your search for certain items. As you can see in the picture below, you have the main hallway then on the sides you have different stalls each catering to specific needs.

You have the meat section

The juice area where you can have naturally made fruit juice from any fruits you select. The ladies will blend the fruits right in front of you and that way at least you know what you are getting.

Below I am at my favorite fruit juice stand with Marcelina the juice maker. This is actually in San Blas market not too far from where I live and I have developed a rapport with Marcelina so I stop by every evening for some fruit juice and conversation. She is really sweet and friendly so if you ever find yourself in San Blas market in Cuzco just look out for Jugos de Marcelina and for 3.50 peruvian soles (roughly a dollar) you can enjoy some freshly made juice from all the fruits she has at her stall.

Fruits upon fruits upon fruits, love it!

One of my favorite fruits that my teacher introduced me to. It's called chirimoya, this is how it looks like when uncut.

This is how it looks like on the inside, it's a very sweet and juicy fruit. You eat only the white part minus the seeds of course. I can not get enough of this fruit!

Coca leaves are very popular here and you can find them in every form imaginable. From the actual leaves themselves to coca candy, to powder, heck! there is even coca ice cream (but it's not found in the market). Here you have the solution to deal with that pesky altitude sickness.

Some herbs which are mostly used by shamans as my teacher explained.

The bread section.

I loved the flower section because of all the bright colors from the different flowers.

Fancy some frog meat? look no further because at San Pedro they cater to your needs. By the way how messed up is it to have the skinned frogs right next to the live frogs? poor creatures get to see their fate.

The handicraft section

That's it folks, this market is worth checking out especially if traveling on a budget. You can have lunch here on the cheap and I have actually seen a lot of foreigners coming here for that. There is so much to be found at this market at reasonably cheap prices so if you are ever in Cuzco do stop by.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

People work so many hours here, it's normal to see someone working 10 plus hours everyday of the week minus Sunday. And to think I used to complain about working at my 8 hour/day, Monday through Friday job. Sometimes you just don't realize how easy you've got it.

I think Cuzco is an ideal city for hippies and the artsy types, there are so many here. By the way some of the artsy looking men are HOT! and they come from different parts of South America.

Of all South Americans I think Argentinians seem to travel a lot. I have come across quite a number during my travels here. I was having an interesting conversation with my hosts and they were saying that Argentinians are only allowed to take a certain amount of money away from the country so that's why you will find a lot of them selling art, pastry or working in restaurants in order to supplement their travels when they run out of money in a foreign country. Back in their countries they may be well off but there is only so much money they can access while outside the country. Hmmm? interesting indeed! but it sucks though, why would you have restrictions on your own money???

I can not tell you the number of times I have been offered marijuana or invited out to smoke marijuana while listening to reggae music. I think because of my hair which is in dreadlocks, a lot of people here in Cuzco stereotypically assume I am a weed head which is so far from the truth! I don't smoke cigarettes, marijuana or any other smokable stuff. Actually I try avoiding hanging out with some of these people because I don't want to be guilty by association and end up in a Peruvian prison or any prison for that matter. Call me overly cautious but I don't want trouble.

I met this one dude who was raving about Bob Marley and kept going on about the Rastafaris and Jamaica. I was just quietly listening to him and nodding my head until he asked me which Bob Marley song I liked and invited me to hang out with his friends to listen to some reggae music. You should have seen the look of disappointment on his face when I told him I actually prefer listening to: Salsa, Bachata and Cumbia music.

Hey! just because I have dreadlocks doesn't mean I love reggae music or I am obsessed with Jamaica and Bob Marley, I just happen to have this style of hair because I am damn lazy when it comes to combing my hair and styling it so having dreadlocks is very convenient and easy maintenance for me.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Taquile Island

Part 3 of my Island adventures, if you need to catch up you can check out Part 1 and Part 2. After leaving Amantani Island we headed to the third and last Island of the tour, Taquile Island. Getting there took about 2 to 3 hours but the boat ride was pleasant so that helped a lot plus most people passed out anyway since it was early in the morning.

Once the boat docked our guide explained to us the agenda for the day and off we went ahead to climb numerous steps in order to get to the main plaza of the Island. Going up was tough as usual but the steps were so well planned which made things slightly easier, I can only imagine the hard work it must have taken to build all those steps though.

The main town plaza wasn't something to write home about but it had some beautiful views of the lake and surrounding areas. There were several artisan shops where you could buy some of the handmade products from the Island and most of these products were being woven by men. Apparently these products can only be found on the Island and nowhere else plus the Islanders are known as the best weavers in the world. Luckily for my bank account I did not see anything that caught my fancy so I never spent any money.

Posing with one of the Islanders wearing the traditional clothing.

There wasn't much to do at the plaza but we were given half an hour to chill before heading off to lunch and to learn about the traditions of the Islanders. Taquile Island actually reminded me of Amantani Island because of the numerous terraced hills and mountains so it was hard to determine which of the two was my favorite.

Once we assembled for lunch the guide went ahead to first describe the clothing of the Islanders and the culture they practice. You see the man below? the hat and the belt indicate that he is married. Married women wear dark skirts while single women wear brightly colored skirts, in general it seems like single women wear more elaborate dressing while married women wear more toned down dressing. For the men, their wives present them with the belt after their first year anniversary of marriage and attached to the belt is a piece of the wife's hair to signify an eternal bond meaning their marriage is meant to last forever.  Divorces do not exist on the Island.

During courtship and before marriage a couple is required to live together for 2 years to determine whether the relationship will last or not. After two years if the relationship is good then they get married, if not then they go their separate ways and find other mates. Within these two years the couple can have children and if the relationship doesn't work, the dad gets to keep the son so he can learn the skills of the father and the mother gets to keep the daughter so she can learn her skills. Each parent has visitation rights.

We were also shown how the Islanders use natural resources for everyday use which was very interesting. They make their own shampoo and soap from specific plants, below you can see the guy demonstrating how this is done. After grinding the plant with a stone he put it on a piece of cloth then dipped it in water, within minutes the water turned into foam and it was ready to be used for cleaning. We got to smell and touch the foamy water, it had a leafy smell and indeed had a soapy feel to it. The guy even took a dirty piece of clothe to demonstrate how effective the soap is and sure enough, the clothe came out clean after being washed in the soapy water.

After the interesting information we were given, lunch was served over a balcony overlooking the landscape of the Island, it was really pretty! but the sun was super bright and came down hard.

Finally it was time to leave the Island and we had to go down numerous steps to get to the boat, the views were stunning.

The whole group from the tour. Good times Indeed!

That's it folks! after leaving the Island it was time to head back to Puno the city at the shores of Lake Titicaca, in order to depart to our respective places. Others were heading to Bolivia, others were spending the night in Puno before continuing their journey while I was heading back to Cusco. 

Random Thoughts of The Day:

During this whole Island adventure we had no access to showers, can you imagine not showering for two days? all I wanted after leaving all the Islands was to take a long shower and wash my hair.

Puno is not a pretty city at all, I think it's one of those cities you pass through to get somewhere else. I am not going to lie, that city is a mess.

I assumed girls get married very young on the Island but the guide was telling me that they actually get married in their early 20s, I know this is still young but I was expecting to hear 15 or 16.

A lot of the Indigenous people I have seen here have red, pink or darker colored cheeks. I was told its because of exposure to harsh climatic conditions, they don't use cream for protection and are exposed to either very cold conditions or very hot conditions and it burns the skin. I have to admit though, the little kids with red or pink cheeks look so darn cute!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Amantani Island

Here is part 2 of my Lake Titicaca experience, you can read about my first experience here. After leaving the floating Islands of the Uros we headed to another Island called Amantani, here we would spend the night with the local families and get to know more about their culture. Getting to the Island was by boat of course and it took about 3 hours, I was surprised by how far these Islands are from each other. I had assumed everything was clustered together but I was clearly wrong.

The inhabitants of Amantani speak Quechua which was the language that the Incas spoke. The Island is really pretty with terraced hills and mountains all over. Farming and tourism are important on the Island and everywhere you went you saw little farms on peoples backyards.

When we arrived at the Island of Amantani we were each assigned a family and as it so happens, all the solo travelers were assigned to one family where we would be provided with our own personal rooms. Within our group there was: me, a Colombian guy, a Spanish guy and a Hungarian-Canadian lady. We followed our host family to their house and we were each shown our rooms and got settled in, later on we (the solo travelers) met up to chat and get to know each other better. I was glad I ended up with this group of people because they were all great and we had so much fun together!

Just landed on the Island
At our host family we were served lunch after settling in and it consisted of two different types of potatoes, cheese and some green beans. Peru has over 4,000 varieties of potatoes so you best believe potatoes feature heavily in a lot of the meals. We were also given coca leaf tea and I of course made sure to drink plenty of it because I wasn't about to let altitude sickness spoil my trip.

This was the compound to our home on the Island.

Would you look at that view right in front of our temporary home? amazing! isn't it?

After lunch we had some time to rest before meeting with our guide who was going to take us on a hike up one of the mountains where ceremonial practices are held. There are two important mountains that the inhabitants use for their ceremonial practices: The Pachamama which means mother earth and The Pachatata which is the male equivalent, we were to hike up one of the shorter mountains...........I forget which of the two it was but I think the Pachamama was the shorter of the two.

To be honest with you I was a bit intimidated with the hike because walking just a few steps I was panting like a dog and feeling out of breath so I wasn't sure how I would manage going all the way up. The guide was kind enough to get us some muña leaves which is what you see in the picture below, the locals have used it for hundreds of years to combat altitude sickness and help with respiration.

The guide explained that anytime you felt out of breath all you had to do was rub the leaves on your palm and inhale. That stuff really works I tell you, I was actually one of the first people to reach the top of the mountain thanks to the leaves, I was feeling energized and my breathing was back to normal.

When everyone was assembled at the top we were shown this special area where ceremonies are performed and told that if we went round the area three times anti clockwise carrying a rock, our wishes would be granted if we threw the rock through a specified gate. Of course yours truly picked up a rock so fast and commenced circling the area. You had to make only one wish though, bummer! why couldn't it be 3???

We hang around the area for a while before it was time to head back to our respective homes for the night.

At the house we were served dinner which consisted of pasta and rice...........seems like the diet on the Island is carbohydrate heavy but you do actually need it because moving around the Island you need all the energy you can get! there are no cars so you best believe you will be walking all over the place and some areas are really steep.

That's it folks, after dinner I stayed up late chatting with the Colombian and Spanish guy and we had plenty of laughs before calling it a night. The next day early in the morning, we were to depart the Island. Unfortunately our local family was a bit more reserved unlike the other families so we did not interact too much with them as they kept to themselves and maintained a certain distance even when we tried including them in our conversations. Never the less it was a good experience and I have no regrets that I took this trip.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

I have met truly amazing people during my trip overall, at least now I know if I am to travel to certain parts of the world I have free room and board.

Life on the Islands of lake Titicaca seems very quiet, peaceful and simple. It's actually an ideal life if you want to relax and take it easy but I can only stand it for a day.......okay, 2 days maximum and no more! I prefer city life.

At night it got so dark on the Island you could not even see your hand if you put it right in front of you.

I was very surprised when at the floating Islands of the Uros we visited one hut where there was a family living and I spotted a TV and radio. I asked the owner of the house if they function and he said yes, they have solar panels which they use to watch TV.

Knowing Spanish has made my life so much easier traveling in this part of the world. Within our group (the solo travelers) everyone spoke Spanish apart from the Hungarian-Canadian lady, at times I felt bad for her because she found it hard to join in conversations so I made sure to chat with her to include her. The guys were really nice and also tried their best to interact with her but the language barrier was not helping much.

The Spanish accent from Spain is totally different from the accent you will find in South America, speaking with the Spanish guy in our group it was sometimes hard to understand what he was saying so I would ask him to repeat himself on occasion.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Titicaca & The Floating Islands of The Uros

The last couple of days have been quite an experience for me but in order not to overwhelm you with too much information, I will break my post into three different parts. Over the weekend I decided to book a 2 day and 1 night tour to Lake Titicaca which is the highest navigable lake in the world and borders Peru and Bolivia. I had heard about the floating Islands on the lake that are inhabited by the Uros, a pre-Incan ethnic group so I was curious to learn more about them and their way of life.

In order to get to lake Titicaca I had to take an overnight bus to Puno, a city that's located on the southern part of Peru and it's at the shores of the lake. The bus ride was only 6 hours so that wasn't too much for me and as usual, I slept through most of the ride anyway. I arrived in Puno very early in the morning and I got to meet the people who were in the same tour, after everyone was accounted for we were on our way to some new adventures.

To get to the floating Islands we had to take a boat and the trip was actually longer than I expected, It was about 2 to 3 hours. In the boat the guide gave us some background information about the Uros and explained their customs and what to expect. As mentioned earlier, the Uros are a pre-Incan ethnic group meaning they were around way before the Incas. They live on floating Islands on Lake Titicaca and have maintained a lot of their customs to this day, they speak Aymara which is their native tongue but some also speak Spanish as that's what's taught in schools. 

The guide gave us a lot of information which was very interesting and made for an interesting boat ride which I enjoyed, thank goodness I didn't get any motion sickness! The sun was out in full force but it was actually cold and a jacket did come in handy

Approaching the Islands.

The Uros were very friendly and since tourism is also part of their means for earning a living, they were only too happy to display their way of life and of course had some of their products on display for sale.

We got to meet the leader of the Island who showed us how they construct the floating Islands and also explained their way of life on the Island. Each Island takes a year to construct and it's made from reeds that grow on Lake Titicaca, the Islands can last up to 40 years but have to be maintained every so often which as explained by the leader, is a grueling task but must be done. Walking on the Island felt a bit like walking on a water bed or something, it's hard to explain.

The women had on very colorful traditional dressing.

To get from one Island to the next, the Uros use these boats you see below which are constructed with  reeds from the lake. The material was actually very sturdy and we even got to go on one of their boats for a ride around the Island just to experience how it is traveling in these boats.

That's it folks, it was a very interesting experience as I got to learn so much about how other people live.  

Random Thoughts of The Day:

The kids from the Island were very fascinated by my hair and everyone wanted to touch it. One kid even tried to yank a piece of my hair and I had to politely tell him to take it easy because it hurts. 

Speaking of hair, next time I will be very careful on who touches my hair. This one kid from the Island had just been eating fish and she touched my hair trying to braid it, let's just say my hair has a very strong fishy smell that I have had to endure for the past couple of days since I had no access to a shower. Trust me! it stinks!!!

I was asking the guide how the Uros clean themselves or where they go if they need to use the toilet. He said they swim in the lake and use the water to clean themselves, as for the toilets they don't relieve themselves on the islands but on some nearby reads which absorb the waste and ensure the water isn't contaminated because they drink the water from the lake.

Puno is at a higher altitude than Cuzco so I was actually scared that I would get sick from the high altitude. You should have seen how I was religiously popping the altitude sickness pills and drinking coca leaf tea like my life depended on it. Actually, my life did depend on it!

Due to the sun exposure some of the Uros have darker skin, some even had the same skin tone as me. Apparently they have adapted so well to the sun exposure that their skin is less sensitive and you never hear of cases associated with skin cancer among the population. Of course you know being at high altitude the sun exposure is no joke and you can easily burn.